Atlanta United had two players selected for the MLS Best XI - Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. Martinez has the distinction of breaking Stern John’s hat trick record and setting the single season goals record in the same year. He managed to do it while some fans thought he wasn’t good actually, or something, as he was told by one soccer analyst in the tunnel the players walk through going to the locker room early this year. Almiron is an obvious choice as he’s the key player for the Atlanta United attack, plus MLS wasn’t about to let the player who may become the most expensive transfer out of the league not be on this list.
Let’s see who else made the cut...
Yes, this is a 3-4-3 - or a 3-3-4 depending on what Ignacio Piatti is doing - and one of the defenders is a left back because it’s MLS and nobody in this league actually cares about defense or tactics and one of the defenders, YOLO? Defensive midfielders? Not here, this is America and America wants goals, if you want defensive midfielders go watch the Premier League.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Remember Zlatlanta? Remember how there was a big discussion of how we couldn’t afford Zlatan? THAT WAS ALL LIES HE WAS PAID $4 TO PLAY FOR THE LA GALAXY, HE COULD HAVE BEEN OURS. Anyway, he’s not but in a way I’d like to take credit for all of the hype that Atlanta fans built around him coming to MLS that clearly led to his joining the league. So, Zlatan, thanks for scoring 22 goals and 10 assists in only 27 MLS games for your team Atlanta United.
Wayne Rooney - Yes, another player deemed surplus to requirements by the Atlanta United front office and largely derided by fans. Wayne is old and slow and not quite what he was when Manchester United won the Premier League ever year, but it turned out he was exactly what DC United needed. Arguably Rooney was the most important player to his team as he somehow supplanted Darren Mattocks as the starting DC striker, but more than his performances, 12 goals and 7 assists, his marketability and MLS’ desire to appeal to existing fan bases of European leagues that typically dismiss MLS because it constantly brings in European players past their prime really nailed his spot on the list.
Luciano Acosta - Hey look, a midfielder not named Julian Gressel who made his way on the list despite needing Rooney on his side to drag his awful team into the playoffs. In my opinion, a player is only as good as he is with Darren Mattocks as his striker. Sure, Gressel had 14 assists mostly thanks to his ability to send a cutback through the box to the best MLS striker ever, but they were deeply impressive cutbacks and proved the point that anybody can play right back.
Ignacio Piatti - The best player on a bad team for every year he’s been in the league, Piatti had 16 goals and 13 assists. While that’s more goals and assists than Tito Villalba, 25% were penalties and if we learned anything about dismissals of Josef Martinez’s ability as a striker, it’s that PKs are a sign of weakness for a striker and something that should be held against them.
Carlos Vela - Somehow Vela forgot that he was only here to play well enough to make the Mexico World Cup squad and played a decent full season for the best expansion team of all time to give up five goals to Minnesota United. Miraculously, Vela beat out other midfielders like Jeff Larentowicz, Darlington Nagbe, and Eric Remedi who actually play in the midfield and aren’t really forwards.
Aaron Long - Something of a late bloomer, Long became a regular starter for NYRB last year at the age of 25. He’s made up for lost time by becoming the defender of the year this season and joins the other defenders who are apparently better than Michael Parkhurst or Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez.
Chad Marshall - The center back was recognized as one of the best XI which is an incredible achievement for someone who is so lumbering on the field as to be nearly completely immobile. Still, he was crucial in the first half of the Sounders season by implementing Brian Schmetzer’s classic ‘don’t score, but don’t let the other team score, and shut down the game in the first minute because the ownership isn’t going to buy us a good attacking player until July’ strategy. No word yet from Schmetzer if the Atlanta United record attendance for a playoff game set last weekend was because of Seattle or not.
Kemar Lawrence - The NYRB left back has the tough job in this best XI of having to play defense, he’ll have his work cut out for him covering for Chad Marshall who is still making his way off of the field at CenturyLink Stadium after the Sounders’ playoff loss last week as we speak.
Zack Steffen - Well MLS wasn’t going to not hype a young American goalkeeper on a team that it tried to make everyone forget for 2⁄3 of the season while its owner scammed the league into giving him a new team in Austin, Texas now was it? Steffen had a great season with 10 shutouts and set the record for most minutes without a goal allowed. And no, it’s not weird that he gave up more goals than the keepers on the teams the defenders on this list are on, and of course nobody thinks it’s strange he’d get the award despite those teams giving up fewer goals than his, why would you even point that out?
So that’s the best XI, I still have no idea how the league managed to snub both Sacha Kljestan and Will Johnson in addition to the IX Atlanta United players who didn’t make the cut.